I had planned to write about Yom Kippur in my hometown but when I started writing, I realized the post would be more understandable if I introduced the community first.
There have been Jews (on and off) in my hometown since the Middle-Ages. The region was quite wealthy as it was situted between two rich trading regions, historical Flanders (which included part of France) and Champagne. Champagne had trade fairs which linked the cloth-producing cities of the Low Countries with the Italian dyeing and exporting centers. Therefore the Jews in our region were mostly merchants and money lenders – a trade which was forbidden to Christians, except in Lombardia. Local archives record the taxes they paid and also complaints by the people who owed them money. They had names that look quite strange today, such as Agnès, Bienvenu, Bonechose, Ejus Uxor, Yvo de Roie, Jacob, Founière, Prècioseus, Bonefile, Meliote, Emmelina, Ivette, Agnès, Onorat, Durée.
They seem to have been expelled from the town in 1245 and again in 1394. Expelling the Jews was way for Christian kings to get richer; first when they were expelled – since they were not allowed to take their money with them -and when they came back and were asked to pay a subtancial sum to be allowed to settle where they used to live.
The town council minutes mention Jews again in 1562. During the 17th century, the French state, through the Inquisition, endeveavoured to convert French Jews and our region was no exception. Yet it hard to estimate how many Jews lived here as this was not recorded at that time.
Things changed in the 19th century when a synagogue was built in 1856. Twenty-one years later it was replaced by another one. Unfortunately it was burnt down, as most of the town’s buildings, during the first world war. Therefore a new one was built, on a different site, but it was destroyed again, this time quite on purpose by the nazis during WW2. As a number of families came back after the war, another synagogue was built in 1947 and it is the same one wich is still in use today.
Until 1965, the synagogue was Ashkenazi with the majority of families coming from Poland but then they were outnumbered by Sephardi Jews from Algeria, Tunisia and (to a lesser extent) from Morocco.
Nowadays the community is both to small and too poor to have a permanent rabbi. Therefore a member of the community leads prayer services on Friday evenings and a rabbi comes from the Paris suburbs for Yom Kippur.
Can you see the Star of David windows under the clock tower of our town hall?